Five years since the Great Recession, more Arkansans feel the state is heading in the right direction than the wrong direction and a majority identify the economy and jobs as their top issues of concern. In a new survey conducted on Jan. 19, 2014 by Talk Business and Hendrix College, 520 likely Arkansas voters weighed in on the economy.

About 55 percent said the economy and jobs were the most important issue facing Arkansas with health care (16 percent) and education (14 percent) being distant alternative choices. Also 48 percent said the state was heading in the right direction versus 36 percent who said the state was moving in the wrong direction.

Wal-mart proposing $10 million to spur innovation, U.S. manufacturing

Walmart’s U.S. President and CEO Bill Simon announced a new $10 million fund that the retail giant plans to make available for grants to manufacturing innovators. Speaking to the nation’s mayors in Washington, D.C., Simon said the new fund would seek to create new processes, ideas and jobs to support America’s manufacturing footprint. Walmart has been touting efforts to draw overseas manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. Last year, company leaders announced they would buy an additional $50 billion in American products in the next decade.

Tyson foods acquires Bosco’s Pizza

Adding to its prepared foods arsenal, Tyson Foods announced Monday (Jan. 20) that it will acquire Bosco’s Pizza Co. of Warren, Mich. for an undisclosed sum. Bosco’s Pizza produces a variety of stuffed bread sticks and frozen pizzas for food service and retail customers throughout the Midwest and at some retailers nationwide. Tyson will also continue to operate the products under the Bosco’s Pizza name.

J.B. Hunt tallies another record year of earnings

J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. announced record-fourth quarter net earnings of $92 million versus fourth quarter 2012 net earnings of $84 million. Total revenue for the quarter was $1.47 billion compared with $1.34 billion for the fourth quarter 2012. For the full year, J.B. Hunt posted net income of $342 million on revenue of $5.58 billion.

The transportation giant saw double-digit increases in all aspects of its business sectors except in its traditional truckload segment. J.B. Hunt is reinvesting in its laggard truckload division after reducing its fleet size a year ago.

Metropolitan merger costs drop Simmons First overall net income

Simmons First National Corporation’s $53.6 million buyout of Little Rock-based Metropolitan took a toll on fourth=quarter and year-to-date net income. The Pine Bluff-based bank holding company reported fourth quarter net income of $3.8 million, down from $8 million in the previous year’s fourth quarter. Simmons said core earnings were $7.7 million when one-time expenses were factored out.

For the full year, Simmons First reported net income of $23.23 million, compared to $27.68 million one year ago. Simmons said that core earnings were $27.61 million, up from $26.87 million in the previous year. Core earnings factor out one-time expenses, gains and losses from non-recurring expenses, and unusual items.

HP refunding state $459,000

The state of Arkansas will receive $459,000 in clawback funding from tech giant Hewlett Packard for its failure to meet employment goals as part of a $10 million incentive package.

HP announced in December 2008 that it would locate a tech support facility in Conway. It received roughly $10 million in incentives from Gov. Mike Beebe’s Quick Action Closing Fund as part of an agreement to create 1,000 jobs within five years. In mid-2013, HP laid off about 500 workers and later in the year announced it would hire 200 with different skill sets. As a result of the net employment figures, HP failed to meet all of the requirements of its original deal.

McDaniel wins $16.5 million judgment for Public Employees Retirement System

A Pulaski County judge ruled that a Massachusetts real estate company had breached its contract with the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and ordered the company to immediately pay APERS the remaining contract amount.

Circuit Judge Tim Fox granted Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s motion for default judgment against National Timber Partners LLC of Williamstown, Mass. Fox found that the company failed to meet its financial obligation to the retirement system as required in an October 2012 contract in which National Timber had pledged to purchase APERS’ interest in an investment fund for $110 million. Fox ordered National Timber Partners to pay $16,508,454.68, which represented the remaining amount due to the retirement system at the time the company breached the contract, plus $561,739.75 in pre-judgment interest.

(Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His email address is; his website address is